Guest Viewpoint: ‘Join in a Song With Sweet Accord’

When Isaac Watts penned these words, by “sweet accord” he designed an agreement of heart, a unanimity of opinion, a settled sense of oneness in affection. By this, he reflected the admonition of Colossians 3:16 that instructs us as partakers of the grace of Christ to join with one another in a mutual instruction in truth through song: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” Later, Watts warned, “Let those refuse to sing who never knew our God.”

Singing together in worship is a great privilege and is an inescapable mandate of the regulative principle. When we sing, we assume that our words arise from the “word of Christ,” properly interpreted (“in all wisdom”), with the purpose of instruction, and with a true and growing acquaintance with the saving grace of Christ (“with grace in your hearts”). This instruction from the apostle, with its underlying intent of truthful admonition (“admonishing one another”) gives an imposing importance to the singing element of corporate worship.

Hymns and other genres employed in corporate worship gain their instructive quality — and their unusual sticking power — from several elements. Those responsible for selecting the texts and tunes to be sung by the brothers and sisters in admonition of “one another” should receive the calling as a true stewardship of the gospel and realize the instructive potential in this biblical matter.

We have all experienced the power of hymns remembered at critical times in our lives, and sometimes hymn lines last longer in the heart than any other element of godly instruction. I think that truth is owing to these traits of what we sing.


Texts must be true, clear, and, with repetition, easily memorable. When a hymn begins with the line, “There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins,” the text immediately grasps the heart and the memory because of the deep image set forth along with the simplicity of the sentence. “Come Thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace.” Again, the text is easily memorable and highly instructive.


The repetition of the tunes gives an added layer of memorability to the text. Easily sung melodies so insinuate themselves into text with which they are joined that humming the tune will stimulate the mind to recall the words. Some of those sung for years, even decades, will unfailingly be identified with each other. Even when the tune is growled by the bagpipe, who does not begin to think, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound”?


For those who have not advanced beyond “Down at the cross where my Savior died,” the hymn may be brought to mind by a simple rhythmic vocalization or handclapping of the first line: clap, clap-clap-clap, clap-clap-clap, clap, clap.

Now three elements join to enforce the total impression of this vital instruction into the mind.


At best, the rhyme scheme has genuine poetic value and evokes a sense of beauty in language. Often, we remind ourselves of the correct lines in a verse by recalling the rhyme scheme connected with its poetic power.

Recently I was trying to recall the third line of the third verse of “Immortal Honors Rest on Jesus’ Head.” I knew the last line was, “And matchless grace has made that treasure mine.” From that I searched mentally for an “-ine” word and remembered, “In him there dwells a treasure all divine.” The rhyme scheme and the simple but enchanting poetry helped me remember and gave me a sweet moment in contemplating the gracious refuge we find in Jesus Christ. Now this fourth element of well-constructed hymns establishes an even more unbreakable line of remembrance.


Charles Spurgeon loved to quote hymn lines to seal a doctrinal point. When preaching about the righteousness of man as always in a transgressive spectrum, he would cite from “Rock of Ages”: “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling.” When preaching about the finished and effectual work of Christ on the cross, often he would quote, again from hymn writer Augustus Toplady, “If thou hast my discharge procured, and fully in my room endured the whole of wrath divine, Payment God cannot twice demand; first at my bleeding Surety’s hand, and then again at mine.”

How compact! How lovely in rhyme scheme, and how attractively rhythmic! But beyond that, how assuring to the soul of a biblical truth that spans the entire canon of revealed truth. This arises with power from a life of pursuing the injunction, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.”


Certain hymns — because of the power of these five elements and their use at a particularly vulnerable, needy, sad, or exuberant time — have a special connection to the affections. Sometimes this connection comes simply in the overwhelming joy of hearing voices proclaim together and with intensified exuberance a particular point of praise for the gospel or affirmation of a compelling biblical truth.

How often have I, and perhaps many others, been lifted beyond what any well-constructed argument could do simply by joining the sincere and resounding chorus of voices singing, “Amazing love! How can it be? That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me!” And what an overwhelming and almost voice-stopping sense of worship often arises when joining with hundreds of other believers in ascending the scale with the ascending admonition involved in intoning, “Behold our God, seated on his throne, Come let us adore him.”


Brothers and sisters, count it all joy when you are allowed to sing with and admonish others and join with the church through the decades, or even centuries, with this precious, God-given gift of Christian worship through congregational singing. And then renew your soul, instruct your mind, inflame your heart, and praise your Savior through the common confession of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

— Tom J. Nettles taught Baptist history and historical theology for more than 38 years in Southern Baptist seminaries, including Southwestern Seminary and Southern Seminary, from which he retired as a full-time professor in 2014. He is the author of many books on Baptist history and theology, including “Baptists and the Bible” and “James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman.”